District stadium a complex issue
At next week’s Eudora USD 491 Board of Education meeting, the district will be one step closer to making a decision on the construction of a stadium.
But there’s more riding on the decision than a new facility for Eudora High School’s football, soccer and track teams.
The teams currently play at Laws Field, which is between Church and Elm streets and next to Nottingham Community Learning Center.
The strip of land inhabited by the two facilities is seen as one of the most valuable pieces of land in the city. Should the district decide to build a new stadium, which would sit just to the west of EHS, it could free up more space for future development.
“It (Laws Field) is sitting on one of the most visible pieces of property in Eudora,” Eudora City Administrator John Harrenstein said. “It’s a symbol of what’s possible in the community and how to build our commercial tax base.”
Keeping that in mind, the district is taking into account the forthcoming economic development plan of the city.
“The task of the board is to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars and provide the best possible education for our kids,” Superintendent of Schools Don Grosdidier said. “With that said, certainly decisions that improve the tax base of the community help the taxpayers. If we’re in the position to take actions that can impact that — be it these properties or marketing the school district in such a way that it attracts more businesses to come to the city — then we want to do that.”
With most of the projects funded by the $45 million bond issue finished or already under construction, the only one on which the district has yet to break ground is the stadium.
However, district construction consultant Don Swartz said if the district decided to build a stadium, the projects would come in about $940,000 over budget.
If budget cuts at the state level hadn’t occurred, the overage would’ve been easier for the district to mitigate. However, state legislators have cut about $500,000 the district’s budget and more cuts are possible during this year’s legislative session.
The district will have the option — as stated in the bond resolution — to use bond money to pay off the $1.3 million lease contract with heating and air conditioning provider TAC Americas.
Paying for the TAC contract would cut down on the district’s yearly operational costs, as it spends about $124,000 annually on the lease.
The stadium’s construction initially was estimated at about $2.9 million based on a plan that would have had engineering firm DLR design the facility and then bid out construction management.
However, the board has entered into a contract with Wichita-based firm ATG, which would design and manage the construction of what could be a $2.2 million facility.
The district has paid $25,000 for a stadium design and a list of supplies needed. This method could allow board members to choose certain parts of the stadium the district could afford to have built now and other parts that could be finished later.
More importantly, it would give board members a better idea of the cost of the stadium and allow them to make a more informed decision.
There has been some interest in the Nottingham property, including two interested parties during the last two or so years who were only interested in the corner at Church and 14th streets. But the district would rather keep the property until its market value improves with the economy.
The board would also like to see the property developed as a whole according to a master plan rather than in a piecemeal fashion.
“I think it’s prudent for the school district to hold on to that property in the short term because appraisers have told us its value will be much greater in three to five years down the line when the economy turns,” Grosdidier said. “The school district could leverage that property toward other items that might be important to long-term growth.”
Those other items could be a new transportation center and central office, which would allow the district to vacate its current administrative buildings — at the corner of Elm and Church streets — and make them available for sale.
Grosdidier noted the district was mindful of developing the properties in the best interests of the city, and the district valued the city’s input on such matters.
In turn, Harrenstein said the likelihood of a positive outcome was greater if the two entities worked in concert.
“This is an example of good public policy, of the city’s two public organizations working together to maximize the tax dollars and tax benefit of the town,” he said.
The lack of space at Laws Field also is a safety issue. Laws Field has a seating capacity of about 1,300 people, but the typical crowd at a varsity football game is 3,000 to 5,000 people.
Some of those attending games can park on the west side of the field, but many park across the street on the east side of Church Street. As a result, pedestrians and vehicles pack the small area on game nights.
Eudora Police Chief Greg Dahlem said public safety would be improved if the new stadium were constructed.
The board also has the following options:
• Don’t build the stadium, pay off the TAC lease and make improvements to the roof and parking lots throughout the district. This option would come in at about $215, 000 over budget.
• Don’t build the stadium, make improvements to the roof and parking lots throughout the district. This option would leave the district with about a $1 million surplus and would allow for partial payment on the TAC lease.
• Don’t pay off the TAC lease and don’t make improvements to the roof and parking lots throughout the district. This option would leave the district with $1.24 million that could go toward building as much of the stadium as possible.
“It’s always been our intent to complete all of the projects that the voters approved,” Grosdidier said. “Knowing that this is in the best interests of the city in the long range is very important to the board.”